Ex-Netflix CFO joins stealth payments startup Clinkle
FORTUNE — It has been nearly three years since Barry McCarthy stepped down as chief financial officer of Netflix (NFLX), where many viewed him as Reed Hastings’ right-hand man. He has since gone on to advise venture capital firm (and early Netflix backer) Technology Crossover Ventures, and to sit on the boards of such companies as Pandora (P), Chegg, Eventbrite and Wealthfront.
Today McCarthy is announcing that he has a new fulltime job: Chief operating officer of Clinkle, the stealthy mobile payments startup that recently raised $25 million from high-profile investors like Jim Breyer, Richard Branson, Marc Benioff, Peter Thiel and Diane Greene. McCarthy still isn’t talking about Clinkle’s technology — rumors are it involves high-frequency sounds that can enable transactions between a customer’s and merchant’s mobile device — or exactly when it will roll out beyond private beta (“calendar 2014” is as close as we can get). But he did take some time to explain why he took the job, and clear up some speculation about his departure from Netflix.
What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:
FORTUNE: When you left Netflix in late 2010, the company said you had “expressed a desire to pursue broader executive opportunities outside the company.” Why does Clinkle fulfill that desire?
McCarthy: Since then I’ve been sitting on boards and making private company investments and looking for executive opportunities. I didn’t care if I was running it or helping to run it, so long as it was the right thing. There was something special about Clinkle, which is why I took the job.
What is so special about Clinkle? Is this the ‘secret’ technology that it keeps promising to unveil someday?
Some of it is what we haven’t talked about yet, but the most important piece is the guy [founder Lucas Duplan]. When I signed on with Netflix it was considered a buggy-whip company by most people in Silicon Valley, but it had a very special guy running it. As best I can tell, Lucas is also a very special guy. Execution is all about the people running the business.
There is a lot of friction and inefficiency in the payments market,so there is great value if someone can come along and make it disappear and appear seamless. There are a lot of entrenched interests trying to maintain that inefficiency, but Netflix was very successful in killing off an entrenched business. Some of the things we haven’t yet talked about, in combination with the talent, is why I’ve decided to take the risk. If I’m wrong, there are definitely great opportunity costs I’ll have missed. But it’s the right chance to take.
Clinkle has sought, and received, a lot of media attention long before its app is generally available. Does it run the risk of being viewed as the well-funded startup that doesn’t have a product?
From a business press perspective, maybe. But consumers probably haven’t followed it, or don’t care. If it’s a great user experience, then that is what will matter.
Will you maintain your current board seats?
Yes, I’ll continue to have involvement on those boards. They help me develop as an executive, and a number of the relationships I’ve formed are helpful to the business. But my first priority is going to be Clinkle.
What are your initial tasks?
There will be a ton to do, because there is enormous complexity in what Clinkle is trying to do. There is a lot of talent to be onboarded, processes to be developed, etc. I’ve had the benefit of living through that type of scaling with a great executive.
There was a report that you quit Netflix, in part, because of frustrations over job responsibilities and compensation. True?
Sometimes it’s said that two dots make a line. In 2004 I formally resigned, and said that I wanted to go run a business, but that I’d stay on through the transition. But then we got hit with a variety of things and there was blood on the floor, so I agreed to stay for two more years. And then it turned into six. By late 2010, we had bankrupted Blockbuster and had amazing growth. What else was there to do there? I was never going to run it.
So are you saying you didn’t leave, in part, because you got a smaller raise than fellow exec Ted Sarandos?
Yeah, totally. We both know that after being at Netflix for 10 years I don’t have any trouble feeding myself.
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